I’d like to thank writer Annabel Smith for contributing this guest post about agents. She is the author of Whisky Charlie Foxtrot, and A New Map of the Universe, which was shortlisted for the WA Premier’s Book Awards. In 2012, she was selected by the Australia Council as one of 5 inaugural recipients of a Creative Australia Fellowship for Emerging Artists, for the creation of an interactive app to accompany her experimental speculative fiction The Ark, to be published in 2014. She is currently working on Monkey See, an epic quest with a sci-fi twist featuring a monkey, an evil priestess and the mother of all tsunamis. To find out more about Annabel click here. You can also follow her on Twitter or Facebook. Annabel and fellow writer Kirsten Krauth will be my Stories on Stage guests in October.
Hi, I’m Annabel Smith and it’s been three months since my last agent query. After relentlessly seeking an agent for almost six years, I recently decided to quit. But I am getting ahead of myself. Perhaps I should begin with why I wanted one in the first place.
Why Writers Need Agents
Agents are gatekeepers. They hold the key to getting your manuscript seen by the major international publishers (think Penguin, Random House, Pan MacMillan). If they are successful in getting a publisher interested in your work, they are also the people who help you through the minefield of signing a contract, and may also assist you with marketing and promoting your book, as well as finding new markets for your work (overseas rights, film rights, translations etc.).
My first novel, A New Map of the Universe, was published in 2007 by University of Western Australia Publishing, aka UWAP. The novel sold respectably, for a debut from a small independent publisher. However, I hoped to grow my audience substantially with my second novel, Whisky Charlie Foxtrot, and to that end, I sought an agent to represent my work. Using the Australian Literary Agents Association website, I carefully researched each of the listed agents, identifying which I thought might be the best fit for my work, and over the next two years, submitted to them one by one, assiduously following their guidelines.
I waited, on average, three months to hear back from each agent. Many sent boilerplate rejections; a few sent encouraging but still devastating personalised rejections. A couple of agents didn’t bother to respond at all which was, in some ways, even more demoralising. On one occasion, I came extremely close to securing representation, but ultimately, I reached the end of the list without having managed to find an agent to represent me.
Why Writers Don’t Need Agents
Back to the drawing board. I sent Whisky Charlie Foxtrot to the handful of small, independent Australian publishers who accept unsolicited (i.e. un-agented) submissions and eventually found a home for it at Fremantle Press. Though sales have again been modest, Fremantle Press unexpectedly sold the rights to a US edition, which will hopefully bring my work to a much larger audience.
Though I had managed to get my first two novels published without an agent, I still hoped to find an agent who might help me to take my career to the next level. After signing with Fremantle Press, I began to seek an agent for my third novel, The Ark. In the space of a year I submitted to nine agents, and received nine rejections.
Rejection is part of the writing life. At the same time, you have to know when to cut your losses. After my experience with Whisky Charlie Foxtrot, I made the decision that I would never again wait three years to find a publisher. This time around, I’m taking a leap of faith and self-publishing The Ark. If all goes to plan, the agents will be chasing me!
I’ve had two agents. The truth is there is no “next level.” (Although agents can bring you projects that you wouldn’t have initiated yourself, especially as a non-fiction writer.) I’ve had a book sell very well, I’ve had books with major publishing houses, and you always think this will now put you in a new category and you will be on a “new level,” but unless you’re one of those rare famous writers, you pretty much start back where you were and have to prove yourself with each book and go through the same “please, please take me seriously” process no matter what your last book did.
That’s interesting to hear, Laura. It sounds like my idea of reaching a different ‘level’ might just be wishful thinking.
Certainly sounds demoralising, Annabel—I can’t wait to embark upon this leg of the journey … not! I hope you manage to show them what they missed out on, and have them chasing you after ‘The Ark’ is published, which I can’t wait to read. Best of luck x
There are so many fantastic authors out there not getting publishers or agents … or missing out on awards they should have been considered for. As an author without the publisher or agent to back you, there’s so much work to do to get your book noticed.
Absolutely. There are also terrible books which get published and sell squillions. At the same time I know people who’ve ecstatically signed with agents, only to find the agent has done pretty much nothing for them.
Yes, it’s a part of the process where you have to develop a VERY thick skin. I think if you go into it with low expectations that’s helpful. I tend to have delusions of grandeur – ‘Oh, I’ll easily find an agent!’ Thanks for your kind words about The Ark.
Thanks for sharing this, Annabel. I’ve always thought it would be easier to be published if I had an agent but the few attempts I made to obtain one were unsuccessful. These days I submit my work directly wherever I think it might have a fit and sometimes I’m lucky. I’m also doing some self publishing because while I am still remarkably patient about waiting for decisions and publication, I no longer have youth on my side. There’s no question these are interesting times in writing and publishing.
They certainly are interesting times. At least nowadays we have the option of self-publishing – whereas in the past people who couldn’t get traditional publishing deals just had to consign their manuscripts to the bottom drawer.